Thursday, May 08, 2008

Some points on live video

I've been using a goodly number of live video services over the last month or two. They seem to have sprung up like topsy recently, evidently due to innovations made by Adobe with their Flash Media Server 3 and ancillary products, not to mention support by Akamai et al. Those very few of you who remember my Table vs Jetski startup idea will know that I have some interest in this area, and I have a few thoughts about the nascent industry.

I have used Stickam, Yahoo Live,, and even an Aussie site which was in painful alpha (someone remind me what the name of it was!) which was populated by lots of screaming Germans. I'm going to concentrate here on the services which allow multiple live video streams on screen at once, including the ability to join the conversation yourself. That knocks out places like Ustream and Seesmic, which are otherwise worthy of discussion but not in this post.

I'm not auditioning for Duncan Riley's job at TechCrunch so this will be somewhat half-arsed. Lets' go with point form.

- Flash has always remained a dark mystery to me, so I would love to know why some services decide to go with four of the smaller "viewer" windows, like LiveVideo and Yahoo Live, whereas Stickam goes with six. What's the upper limit, if any?

- Any developers out there in this space should be following the Watch KATG Live thread on the Keith & The Girl forums. There is some interesting stuff there about KATG's previous video streaming partner, PalTalk, and how paid-up subscribers of PalTalk have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Web-based client era, not just due to the financial investment they made in PalTalk accounts but also the technical limitations of the new delivery platform, i.e. Flash, and the move away from an intimate micro-community to a wide open free-for-all.

- It strikes me that the interfaces to all of these applications could do with a dose of modularity. What if a user wants a 3x3 wall of 9 mini-screens? What if a user just wants to view the main screen and maximise the text chat window? What if a publisher wants to show their own video but only accept audio from the crowd, in a call-in environment? Maybe I'm spoiled by NetVibes. These things should be possible, surely? They would be pretty difficult in Flash, I bet, but it will come.

- I suppose you have to recognise that Silverlight is coming round the mountain when she comes, but Flash is dominant in this area. Does it occur to anyone else that this is a tad weird? Why hasn't a startup taken this obvious opportunity to develop a competing solution? Have the days of new proprietary Web client apps gone forever? I remember the days when every week would see the announcement of some new "rich media" downloadable thingumabob for Netscape, complete with its own file format and brand new entry to a standards body. That doesn't seem to happen any more: Flash gets bundled with every browser and that's pretty much it. Good for Adobe, I guess.

- Is there an industry here? I mean, one that allows profits? It hasn't immediately been smothered by the tough love of the RSS/podcasting crowd, which means that it hasn't been infected with the Californian hippy bullshit about it being "all about the community, man". However, is it going to be possible to sell TV-style interstitial commercials into live streaming video? Would the audience wear it? I suspect it has a better chance of happening than with audio podcasting, if only for cultural reasons. It would take a startup with a lot of connections to make it happen, nevertheless. One wonders if anyone other than Google could pull off a video advertising business.

I am a firm believer in live events being an underexploited opportunity for Internet startups. It is what my only successful business so far has been based on. Live events, especially those that go for hours with constantly updating content, deliver a startup huge amounts of page views even if the audience isn't very broad. Live video should be the next huge thing on the Internet. I only hope some of the little guys can get on board before the GEMAYA giants gobble up all the gold.


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